Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch Classic Vol 2

Title: Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch Classic Vol 2

ISBN: 9780785145424
Price: $29.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2010
Artist: Mark Texeira, Larry Stroman, Javier Saltares, Chris, Marrinan, Ron Wagner, James Palmiotti, Mark McKenna
Writer: Howad Mackie, Roy & Dann Thomas
Collects: Ghost Rider #11-20 and Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #28

Rating: 3/5

Ghost Rider is faced with a new threat when he is found by Johnny Blaze, the original Ghost Rider. As Blaze tries to determine Ghost Rider’s real intentions, Ghost Rider battles the likes of Nightmare, Zodiak, Snowblind, Hobgoblin, Reverend Styge, and Suicide with the help of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.

Written by Howard Mackie with Roy Thomas and Dann Thomas writing Dr. Strange #28, Ghost Rider continues to be a hot ’90s commodity at this point. The series really was taking off in its run and back issues were hard to come by.  I can remember paying $10 for number #1 (which was high for the time) and now it is possible to find it in the dollar bins at some comic book stores. A special glow-in-the-dark cover for Ghost Rider #15 also became a big hit for fans and collectors.

The stories in this volume calm down a bit and find more focus from the first ten issues of Ghost Rider volume 2 which were collected in Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch Classic 1. The arrival of Johnny Blaze as sort of a sidekick in Ghost Rider (2) #13 really does help the series in this string of issues by Ghost Rider having to prove he’s not Zarathos to Blaze. Blaze also signals the downfall of the Ghost Rider series which occurs in the next ten issues with the introduction of the Midnight Sons which really complicated the plot and added a lot of elements that turned off fans, but for here Blaze does work.

The villains in this volume still are kind of creature of the month with Ghost Rider facing off against name villains Nightmare and Mephisto, but introducing Snowblind and Suicide which never really caught on. Ghost Rider quest to capture Zodiak ended in issue #20 but the evil Deathwatch and Blackout are no shows (which is a bit weird if Mackie was trying to develop them as major players). Hobgoblin does fit with Ghost Rider style wise but mostly just feels like a reason for another crossover for Spider-Man.

The Danny Ketch Ghost Rider is definitely a product of the 1990s. He isn’t very relevant today and it is almost more fun to go back and read these issues to see how much comics have changed in a couple of decades. What once was “cool” is now “lame” but soon it might be retro and then everyone is happy…I just don’t think it is retro quite yet…but bring on Darkhawk and Sleepwalker!

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier

Title: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier

ISBN: 9781401203061
Price: $29.99
Publisher/Year: America's Best Comics, 2008
Artist: Kevin O'Neill
Writer: Alan Moore

Rating: 1.5/5

The third instalment of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen brings us into the 1950s. After winning the Second World War, the British government was usurped by a new party called Ingsoc, bringing a socialist dictator (Orwell’s Big Brother) into power. The remnants of Mina Harker’s League (last seen fighting Verne’s War of the Worlds in volume 2) is no longer under government sponsorship, having been replaced by more traditional and easily controlled governmental agencies. So the government’s file on the League – the Black Dossier – has been closed for some years.

At the time this book takes place, however, Big Brother’s reign has come to an end. The 1950s are in full swing and British life is normalizing. And so two mysterious figures break into a government building, with the unwitting help of a British spy called James Bond, and steal the dossier. Who they are, what they’re up to and what’s contained in the pages of the dossier are all revealed here.

The sections of the book devoted to telling the current story are in the usual comics format, scripted by Moore and illustrated by O’Neill. This is a rip-roaring adventure, as the couple steal the dossier and attempt to evade the authorities. Moore’s script captures the spirit of the time, featuring a sort of acceleration of hope and technology after the dark times of war and dictatorship. O’Neill’s illustration remains as richly detailed and stunningly characteristic as ever.

Less exciting is the dossier itself. This is mercifully interspersed into the flow of the comic – we effectively read it alongside the protagonists’ own reading. But while entertaining in places, it’s bone dry in others.

The problem is that Moore presents his history of Leagues past and present in the styles of the literature they come from. So while these may at times be interesting and succinct – such as business-like entries from Harker’s journal – at other times they’re turgid and frankly dull. One section, in which the protagonists are met and described by a Kerouacian beat character, is written in an unpunctuated, rhythmic style. There’s little doubt that this is stylistically clever, showcasing Moore’s versatility in creating mashed-up facsimiles in other peoples’ work, but it’s arguably at the expense of the reader.

This turns it into the most disappointing of the League books so far. The background material is of interest and the recent history is key to unraveling the mysteries in the main comic. But it’s a chore to work through, occasionally feeling a bit more like homework than entertainment, and that’s a bit of a shame.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 3: Commercial Suicide

Title: The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 3: Commercial Suicide

ISBN: 9781632156310
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2016
Artist: Jamie McKelvie, Kate Brown, Tula Lotay
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Collects: The Wicked + The Divine #12-17

Rating: 3/5

The second I opened up this volume of The Wicked + The Divine, I knew something was different. The art changed. At first I thought I was going completely insane. Why would the art change? Jamie McKelvie’s name is still on the front cover. Yet, I knew something was different. Before I even began to read the first page, I skimmed through the volume. I was right! The art style seemed to change within every individual issue. I was slightly confused by this decision as there was no explanation as to why this was happening. I decided to begin reading anyway, hoping for some sort of reasoning behind this strange choice.

Commercial Suicide begins with no explanation as to what the hell happened at the end of the second volume, Fandemonium. I expected it to at least be touched on a little, but nothing was really explained until the very last few pages of this volume, and even that was pretty vague.

This volume felt a bit more like a filler volume than anything else. It was filled with backstories about the different gods and who they were as humans before becoming the gods that they are now. I usually love a good backstory, but I think I was so preoccupied with finding out the reasoning behind the final events in the second volume, that I really didn’t care too much about their backstories at that particular moment.

However, one backstory did stand out to me, the story of Baphomet and The Morrigan. I believed their story and it felt the most relatable and realistic. You really got to see the human side of them through their story and I really enjoyed reading about them.

Although a majority of this volume was filled with backstories, we did learn some very important details that will definitely play a part in the future story of this series.

As I mentioned earlier, the art style changed from issue to issue. At first I didn’t understand why. I thought maybe Jamie McKelvie was changing up his style per issue to show each individual personality of the gods, seeing as each issue was told from the perspective of a different god. As the volume went on, I actually thought that was a super cool idea. Then I thought about it a bit more and realized that was kind of already done via changing their thought bubbles and the typefaces used in previous volumes.

It wasn’t until I got to the very end of the volume where it was finally explained why each issue had a different art style. There were guest artists. Duh. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that from the beginning. Suddenly, the different art styles make a lot more sense. I’m still not sure how I feel about this decision, but I think experimenting with this idea was pretty cool. However, I think one volume is enough. I’d like to see the original art style throughout the entire next volume. It was one of the main things that I loved so much about the first two volumes!

Of course, Commercial Suicide left us with yet another cliffhanger. At least Kieron Gillen acknowledged it and let us know it was coming with a clever little title page. I just want to know what the hell is happening!!!

Although this was the weakest volume of The Wicked + The Divine so far for me personally, the story is still really intriguing and these damn cliffhangers are definitely going to keep me coming back for more.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 2: Fandemonium

Title: The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 2: Fandemonium

ISBN: 9781632153272
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2015
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Collects: The Wicked + The Divine #6-11

Rating: 4/5

The Short Version: In the wake of Lucifer’s death, the gods continue on but Laura is trying to find out what happened. Who were the attempted assassins, what part does Ananke play in all of this, and is she actually special too? But as the gods launch their big festival – called Ragnarock – the stage is set for revelations nobody is expecting.

(FYI there are gonna be some light SPOILERS, by necessity.)

Talk about leaving people screaming for more. You thought Lucifer’s death at the end of The Faust Act was something? Wait for the one-two punch of a twist that comes out of this issue. I can’t even really wrap my head around it: it both explodes our conception of this world/mythology while also exploding the actual more literal story. It’s not unheard of to kill off main characters, but I’ve never seen anything as ballsy as this. Killing Ned Stark ain’t got shit on this move. Kieron Gillen is one crazy-bold dude, that’s for damn sure.

But as drop-dead crazy-amazing as the last pages are, the whole volume is pretty much amazing as well. Laura is grappling with a level of unexpected fame (having been there when Lucifer died) while also trying to reckon with her grief – and it provides a nice balance of external and internal stuff, big and small grappling for the same amount of mental real estate. On the one hand, she’s trying to figure out why somebody would want to kill the gods – and on the other hand, she’s dealing with the loss of a friend. All the while trying to figure out who she is. It’s tricky storytelling but Gillen pulls it off, largely with the help of Jamie McKelvie’s beautiful artwork. Even as the literal gods are running around, we retain a sense of small-scale humanity. It’s lovely.

We get to meet more of the gods this time around, too: Dionysus is a raver, Innara is Prince, and the fates of Norse mythology (UrĂ°r and the Norns) are a crazy female spooky goth rock trio or something equally cool. They reminded me a bit of Elvira, but as lensed through some of Jack White’s Third Man Records girl groups. And the Pantheon is now complete: which means… what, exactly? Ananke has plans, it’s clear: she tells certain people certain things while withholding certain other pieces of information. It’s clear that she feels threatened by certain figures in the Pantheon and that other figures feel threatened by her… but beyond the vague and shadowy backstory about the Recurrence and what it does, essentially we’re still clueless. There’s something, potentially, to this idea that the gods protect humanity from some sort of encroaching darkness – a story/myth that’s not unfamiliar to anyone who has studied mythology from any country or canon – but what that darkness is, is unclear. The part Ananke plays is supposedly to guide the gods during their time back on Earth to make sure the darkness can’t ever win again (“We could have had men on Mars thousands of years before the rise of Rome but for the Great Dark,” she says at one point)… but I get the sense that she’s playing some other game here, too. Gone a little crazy, perhaps, having become essentially immortal… Or is it that the bug she puts in Baphomet’s ear actually related to her as well?

It’s unclear and I have to imagine it’s going to remain that way for a little while longer… but oh boy do I want to know what comes next.

But, again, the things we have here are deeply satisfying. Ragnarock, the Con/big concert for the fans of the Pantheon, is an inspired invention. It’s one part Comic Con, one part Glastonbury – and you really do feel the size of the thing. A floor map, annotated by Laura, helps anybody who has never been to a convention before feel the size of the thing while those who have will grin knowingly.  BEA is no Comic Con but I can’t imagine going to anything crazier than the former, so this is a nice chance to pretend.  Plus, music lovers will enjoy the idea of the festival as well as its attendant smaller shows – like Innara’s super-sexy residency in what would appear to be a church, which is exactly the kind of delightful profanity that old-school Prince might’ve enjoyed.

The skillful shorthand deployed by the whole team behind this comic should be shouted once more, by the way. We know each of these gods and their attendant attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors even when they don’t have too much in the way of screentime – and part of that is because they (the creators) know exactly how to use visual signposting and cultural touchstones (making the gods look like stars that we all know already), but it’s also because they are an incredibly skilled team, economically. Look at the sequence in (I believe) Issue 8, at Dionysus’ rave: the pages are split into 8 equal panels but four of them just have the numbers 1/2/3/4. The other four share some piece of storytelling. This ought to be constrictive but, for some reason, it ends up being propulsive: the story is told with sharp economy and you get everything you need in nearly the barest amount of space. Judging from some of the “apocrypha” in the back of the collection, that took a whoooooole lot of work… but, just saying, you can see it on the page: this comic soars.

Rating: 5 out of 5. Again, they really know how to close out an arc on a bang, pun sorrilly intended. But the expansion of the world of the Pantheon has me absolutely delighted and the concept behind the comic continues to be riveting, even as you realize how simple and silly it could be in less-talented hands. I can’t think of another comic that made me need to read the next issue so badly – or one that has felt so much like exactly what I wanted to find, even though I had no idea I was looking for it. Thank god we don’t have to wait 90 years for more.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

An Open Letter to Funko

Dear Funko,

In 2010, my sister introduced me to Funko Pop's by giving me Batman & Robin for my birthday.



















For Christmas that same year, she gifted me with the entire collection of Star Wars pops that were available at that time.


And that's when the obsession began. I've been collecting ever since. I'm a geek from way-back and these really speak to me. I know hunt down the variety of exclusive Pops at Walgreens and Hot Topic, with the occasional stop at FYE and GameStop.

Every time I see a contest to win a new Pop on Facebook, I don't hesitate to Like and Comment. To date, I've never won... but I have to keep trying to win.

This brings me to the meat of the message I want to broadcast to you. I have several ideas for new Pops, and I hope that you will consider them in future lines. Here we go:


BANTHA w/ TUSKEN RIDER
HAN on TAUNTAUN

LUKE on TAUNTAUN
MAX REBO BAND
BITH CANTINA BAND

GALACTUS
MEPHISTO
JOHN CONSTANTINE
AZRAEL
AZRAEL
AZRAEL
THE ENDLESS
SHEPHERD BOOK
SIMON TAM
RIVER TAM
AMY POND
RORY WILLIAMS
CLARA OSWALD
DONNA NOBLE
MARTHA JONES
I think you get my meaning. I'd love to see what you come-up with.

Sincerely,
John
Loyal Collector

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 1: The Faust Act

Title: The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 1: The Faust Act

ISBN: 978632159185
Price: $9.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2014
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Collects: The Wicked + The Divine #1-5

Rating: 4/5

The first trade paperback of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s gods-as-popstars book The Wicked + The Divine opens with a quote from Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, a plea for immortality in the face of imminent death. It is immediately followed by a line from the Dutch dance group Vengaboys’ song “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!” Obviously, this is a book that doesn’t take its big ideas too seriously.

That, of course, won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Gillen and McKelvie’s previous work, of which I am (spoiler alert!) a huge fan. Their latest project takes place in a world in which gods appear every 90 years and inhabit the bodies of teenagers, turning them into superstars. The catch is that the gods only live for two years. Our guide through this world is Laura, a London teenager enraptured with the latest group of gods to turn up. When one of them, Lucifer, is accused of a murder she didn’t commit, Laura gets pulled further into the world of the gods as she tries to solve the mystery, creating more questions in the process.

What is special about The Wicked + The Divine is how real this fantastical world seems. Gillen and McKelvie have populated it with a diverse cast of characters who look and sound like they would not be out of place walking the streets of our London, and who have relatable emotions and motivations. The gods, for all their glitz and glamor, are also at heart frightened teenagers, who may not understand the truth of the bargain they had forced upon them, and who react to their fear with varying degrees of bluster, denial, and acceptance. Laura is a normal girl with a burning desire for something extraordinary, a longing many of us can identify with. By the end of the first arc, though, she sees the true cost of being that close to the flame, and it may be more than she is willing to pay.

That’s not to say that The Wicked + The Divine isn’t enormous fun to read, however. It is an incredibly witty book. Lucifer, in particular, has a wonderfully droll sense of humor, and the laughs make the emotional moments all the more poignant.

The long working relationship between Gillen and McKelvie shows as Gillen’s flair with dialogue combines with McKelvie’s mastery of facial expressions and body language to immediately give each character a distinct personality and recognizable voice. Equally important is the addition of Matthew Wilson on colors. His hypersaturated tones pop off the page, dazzling the reader as much as the gods do Laura.